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Assassination news ‘struck Spokane like a bomb’

In Spokane, as news spread that President John F. Kennedy had been shot, there was a frantic search for transistor radios, televisions or any source of news.

In the offices of Washington Water Power Co. (now Avista), employees crowded around the only television in the headquarters, in the office of its board chairman.

The switchboard at the Spokane Daily Chronicle, then the city’s afternoon newspaper, was “overwhelmed” as readers sought the most current information. The newspaper reported that the news “struck Spokane like a bomb.”

“Groups gathered around radios in many places. In some larger firms, executives called the Chronicle for authentic, late news of the shooting of the President and Gov. Connally of Texas and then put out the word over loud speakers or other means,” the Chronicle, the sister paper of The Spokesman-Review, reported.

Trading ceased at the Spokane Stock Exchange. A union picket outside Fairchild Air Force Base was called off.

The city police station, normally bustling, turned quiet.

“Detectives, many of them veterans of shooting incidents themselves, gathered in a cluster around a small radio,” the Chronicle reported. They repeatedly asked, “Is it true?” When word came that Kennedy was dead, a police department secretary folded her hands, bowed her head and prayed silently.

School leaders debated whether to close but decided it was better for kids to have teachers explain what happened as calmly as possible. Principals said teachers and students were in shock.

Hospital administrators at the three main hospitals, Sacred Heart, Deaconess and St. Luke’s, reported “stunned disbelief” among staff and patients.

“Catholic Sisters at Sacred Heart Hospital left their posts to go to the chapel to pray shortly after word was first received that the president had been shot,” the Chronicle reported.

The bells of Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral downtown rang at 11:40 a.m., shortly after Kennedy’s death was announced. The church celebrated a requiem Mass that night.

The Apple Cup football game scheduled the next day between Washington State and Washington in Seattle was canceled. Cougar fans driving across the state for the game reportedly turned around, according to reports from the state patrol. Events at the Spokane Coliseum were canceled for the weekend, as was a Spokane appearance from comedian Victor Borge. Schools canceled plays and PTA meetings.

On Monday, churches throughout the city held services. The two synagogues held a joint memorial. Services also were held in the courtroom of Judge Ralph E. Foley, the father of soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Tom Foley. Another event was attended by more than 3,000 at Fairchild. The city nearly shut down that day. Public schools closed. Catholic schools opened, but only to hold services.

Almost all downtown retail stores closed upon the request of the executive committee of the Spokane Retail Trade Bureau. The Spokane Daily Chronicle reported that the day of the memorial it was nearly impossible to buy a cup of coffee because so few businesses were open. City, county and federal government offices closed. City buses ran on a Sunday schedule.

The Spokane Pharmaceutical Association agreed that only two drugstores, Whitlock’s and Bates, would be open during the hours of the national memorial service.

Most Washington Water Power employees were given the day off. Workers at Kaiser Alumnium were not. However, those who worked at the Trentwood Plant were to observe five minutes of silence.



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